Several Sackville councillors advocate asking a citizens’ committee to recommend whether there should be any increase in salaries for those who are elected to serve on town council.
The idea of appointing a citizens’ committee came up several times last week during a 30 minute discussion of a detailed report on salaries that council had asked Treasurer Micheal Beal to compile.
Beal’s report traces the history of pay levels in Sackville and compares them to other New Brunswick and Nova Scotia municipalities with populations between four and nine thousand.
The treasurer pointed out that this year, Mayor Higham’s pay is $14,656.72; Deputy Mayor Aiken’s is $8,676.20 while each of the seven councillors is receiving $7,698.6 for a total of $77,223.12, a figure that represents less than one per cent of the town’s operating budget.
Beal pointed out that council’s salaries were frozen between 1996 and 2005 when a citizens’ committee recommended an increase of 17.01% plus a cost-of-living adjustment amounting to 90% of each year’s consumer price index (CPI).
To view Beal’s report on the evolution of Sackville Town Council salaries since 1996, click here.
Beal pointed out that this year, the mayor and councillors actually took a pay cut when the federal government started taxing their full salaries instead of treating one third of their pay as a tax-free expense allowance. For full details, click here.
Beal added that all who serve on council qualify for full life, health and dental insurance although not all claim the benefit. He said Kentville, N.S. also provides such insurance for councillors, although its plan provides only partial benefits.
Beal did not say what the insurance benefits cost the town, nor did he release salary figures for other municipalities, although he said that Nova Scotia municipalities tend to have higher rates of pay for their mayors and councillors.
To view the Shediac bylaw setting municipal salaries, click here. For Woodstock, click here and for pay levels in Amherst, N.S., click here.
Beal did give numbers for the total cost of municipal salaries and benefits for each citizen.
“The cost per capita in New Brunswick municipalities range from $10.82 per capita to $30.39 per capita with Sackville being at $26.08,” he said. “In Nova Scotia, it ranges from $18.85 per capita up to a little over $40 per capita.”
Councillors weigh in
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said Beal’s breakdowns did not include additional perks that councillors in other municipalities may receive. “For example, everybody up here is working off their own computer right now,” he said. “Most other councillors I know or councils that have computers, they’re supplied by the municipality,” he added.
Aiken suggested enlisting a committee of citizens to recommend how much councillors should be paid and then “apply it to the next council.”
Councillor Bill Evans said that when pay levels are added to insurance benefits, Sackville councillors are the best compensated of any in comparably sized municipalities. “I knew what the compensation package was when I ran for office and I’m happy with it and I’m not interested in pursuing it further.”
Evans also spoke against appointing an external committee. “I’m not in favour of pursuing this at all, so I don’t really want to get into saying, ‘well let’s get this other group to make a decision for us.’ I don’t want to do that,” he said. “So, I’m not interested in starting down a road that will end up in, almost without a doubt, an increase to our pay.”
Councillor Andrew Black said that one option he has talked about would be reducing the number of councillors. “If you look at the 16, counting Sackville, towns that were looked at, only four of them have eight councillors,” he added. “I think that we could potentially do our jobs effectively and efficiently with a couple less councillors.”
Black said he also agreed with setting up a citizens’ advisory committee to recommend salary levels.
Councillor Joyce O’Neil said she has served on council for 16 years. “The last raise I got was back in 2005,” she added, also pointing out that for two years in 2010-11, council refused to accept an increase based on the cost of living. O’Neil added that now that she’s being taxed on her full salary, she is moving into a higher income tax bracket while actually earning less.
“Do I want a raise?” she asked. “You bet!”
Councillor Allison Butcher said it’s a weird position to be in to be voting on your own salary. “It is not a position that we should be deciding,” she added. “I really like the idea of [appointing] a citizens’ advisory council about it and I also like the concept that if this is something that we move ahead with…that if there was a raise to be put in place, then it could be for after the next election because then it potentially affects none of us or maybe all of us. Who knows?”
Councillor Shawn Mesheau referred to a previous recommendation that councillors get a raise, but that they also reduce their numbers. He said that at the time, council took the raise but kept the same number on council. “If it’s a raise and the reduction, it’s that picking and choosing that I have an issue over,” he said.
Later, Mesheau said that the value of council work needs to be assessed adding that it’s not just about whether this councillor or that is happy with the salary.
“It’s not just about ourselves, it’s about the next council and the next council and the people that are considering this role [and] what value we place on the role.”
Councillor Bruce Phinney suggested that town staff should recommend any raises, just as the municipal staff did in Amherst. “If we haven’t had a raise as Councillor O’Neil said since 2005, if it’s going to be left up to me to turn around and vote on a raise, yeah, I want one too,” he said. “You know, there comes a time when actually a raise is only fair.”
Phinney also expressed support for appointing a citizens’ committee to examine the pay issue.
Councillor Michael Tower said that, like Councillor Evans, he’s happy with his council salary. “And even though the federal government decides they want to take more from me, it doesn’t mean the Town of Sackville should pay me extra for that,” he added.
“When it comes to a percentage increase, we do get the cost of living, or 90% of it, and some of those increases we got over the years is higher than I got as an increase as a manager of a liquor store,” Tower said, adding that even though he doesn’t think council should revisit the issue, if there is a pay increase, it should apply to the next council.
Mayor Higham summed up by saying that he hadn’t heard a consensus on what council wants to do about pay.
“Unless there’s someone who wants to bring a resolution in the next meeting, I think we’ve had our discussion at this point and if someone wishes to bring a resolution to what you feel is the next step, that will come from council,” the mayor said.
While I do think something should be done to increase their salaries, Councillors are not getting a pay cut. What has happened is an expense allowance on top of their actual salary that was previously tax free is now taxable, reducing the amount received. Perhaps the rationale the Federal government used for the change should also be put forward. Council could also investigate what are allowable expenses with receipts to allow for deductions.